Other voices: Immigration bill would take action now
I would like to thank Mr. Martin Steere for his recent letter to the editor regarding my bill, AB 735. I share many of his concerns on illegal immigration and appreciate his participation in the debate.
In his letter, Mr. Steere asked some important questions about my bill. I would like to take the opportunity to answer his questions and clarify some of his misunderstandings.
Mr. Steere claimed that it is the responsibility of the states to enforce federal immigration laws. This is simply incorrect. The states have no authority to patrol the border or deport illegal immigrants. If states had such authority, there would be no need for further federal action and no need for my bill.
That is precisely the problem. Because immigration enforcement is the exclusive purview of the federal government, and because they have failed to act so far, I proposed AB 735 to empower California to take action.
And I strongly agree that local law enforcement should be required to report illegal immigrant criminals to federal agencies so that they may be deported by the proper authorities; but to be clear, reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities amounts to compliance with federal law, not enforcement. I would encourage Mr. Steere to read my editorial on sanctuary cities that recently appeared in The Union. I think he would find we are much in agreement on this particular issue.
Mr. Steere pointed out that under my bill, undocumented workers would have little incentive to admit to their illegal status and sign up for a work permit number. What Mr. Steere failed to realize is that the program would be enforced by employers, as they would be heavily fined if they were found to employ a worker without such a number. I believe that this is the only way we will ever have effective enforcement of immigration laws.
I am glad that Mr. Steere also asked how the permit registration system in my bill would avoid being defrauded by having multiple workers use the same registry number, similar to Social Security numbers. This is perhaps the most important part of my bill. It would create a system where employers must report to the state when they hire an employee with a permit number. That number would then go into a database.
As soon as that same number is reported by another employer, a red flag would be raised, and an immediate investigation would be conducted on the two employees using the same number. Once fraudulent activity is detected, the guilty parties would be permanently banned from working in California. Any employer who hired such a person would be subject to a $10,000 fine.
The immediate detection, fraud-proof system and significant penalty on employers in violation are the key components that differentiate this system from the Social Security system, which is easily defrauded and places no penalties on employers who knowingly violate the system.
Mr. Steere suggested that the federal government already has in place penalties for hiring illegal immigrants. He then asked if he was missing something about federal law that prompted me to author this bill.
The answer is yes, he is missing something. He’s missing the fact that the federal penalties that exist are weak, insufficient, and most importantly, are not being enforced. That is the essential reason I authored this bill.
Mr. Steere is right that if the federal government started enforcing current law, there would be little need for my bill. But that is the whole point – the federal government is not enforcing current law, so I believe we must try to do something as a state. My bill specifically states that as soon as the federal government takes real action to control illegal immigration, the state program will cease to exist.
In lieu of my bill, Mr. Steere proposed requiring the use of the English language on election ballots and giving reduced tuition at state colleges to citizens rather than illegal immigrants. While I agree with both of these proposals, they do not get to the heart of the problem of illegal immigration. These are peripheral issues that could be solved by enforcing immigration laws via employer sanctions.
I agree with Mr. Steere that the federal government needs to take action on illegal immigration, and it would be a drastic improvement if it simply started to enforce the federal laws that are currently on the books. But if history is our guide, I am skeptical that we will see real action anytime soon. And I don’t believe sitting around and waiting for the federal government to take action is a solution. That is why I proposed a bill that would allow California to take action now.
Rick Keene is the state assemblyman for California’s third district, an area including western Nevada County.
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